Thursday, 28 June 2012


Situating Brishmachree 
a short site-specific theatre piece
Dave Duggan        

© DAVE DUGGAN June 2012

Commissioned and produced by 
Paul Devlin and Adrian O'Connell  Thran Productions      UU/Magee  
for  DATA ROAMING at The Irish Theatrical Diaspora Conference UU/Magee     8th and 9th June 2012
'The North; Exile, Diaspora, Troubled Performance.'

We find a 1920s surveyor, a Dubliner, with equipment and papers, at a gate on a country lane.

Ah good men..... ah good, yes good, ...ah...... yes.

Youse'll have to stand there now. Come right up to the gate there. There's always something getting in peoples' road. That's it. Put these on now. (Luggage labels, marked with the word Observer.) In case any of the locals get quizzical. That's it.

I don't know who put the gate here. But here we are. We're standing at Brishmachree.

You've had the briefing in Dublin, so we can..... Ye haven't? They expect us field men to do everything, while they fatten their arses on smooth leather chairs in Dublin Castle.

We're at this site – Brishmachree -  as part of the finalisation of the considerations of the Boundary Commission, nineteen and twenty-five, chaired by Mister Justice Richard Feetham himself. A right Honourable he is. A right honourable... Ah, loose talk, eh?

No less an esteemed personage than Mr Justice Richard Feetham, chair of the three person Boundary Commission has appointed me, and me alone, to adjudicate on this particular matter. 

Local sensitivities, you see. Brishmachree.

'Away you go my good man, away up to Donegal and sort this out', Mr Feetham says to me. 'I understand you're something of Donegal man yourself', says he.

Who told him my mother is a Doherty from Inch Island? Loose talk eh? There. (Pointing.) Observe this, if you may. Inch Island. (Beat.) You can't actually see it from here. You have to go round that bend there. It's  on the edge of the lough below.  Lough Swilly – Loch na Súile, the lake of shadows and glances, the lake of eyes and averted gazes, eh? Hah! Don't breathe a word. Loose talk, eh...

It's never been done before, you see. In the history of the Empire or this island. A border. There's no history for a man to rest a line upon. To lean his weight upon. Lean away on this gate – go on there – but it won't tell you where to put the border. Or Brishmachree. 

'Find Brishmachree for me, my good man', says Feetham, as if I was his 'good man', his lackey, his amanuensis and his gilley all rolled into one.

A fine word that, gilley. What you'd call the anglicisation of a Gaelic word. The original Irish is giolla, which translates as servant. That's it. I'm the Right Honourable Feetham's, indeed the Boundary Commision itself's, most civil, civil servant. I'm as civil a civil servant as you'll find in the four provinces of Ireland. And in all of his majesty's realm.

So away I journey to the aunt's house on Inch Island, below there. Full of Dohertys round here. I have more cousins than a rabbit; first, second, third and more removed. People are close. They like to be known and neighbourly.

'Situate Brishmachree, my good man', Feetham instructed me. 

So here we are. At Brishmachree. The very spot. We're confident enough of the location. You've seen it on the maps yourselves. My job is to determine the situation. In relation to the new border.

Come up to the gate there now. Straight in front of you, the lane there, this is Brishmachree. But it can't be taken in isolation.

Close your eyes now and we'll do a little time travelling. Close your eyes now. Keep your eyes closed and turn round to your left. Turn through ninety degrees. Keep your eyes closed. That's it. Round to your left there. That's it. Open your eyes now. Potatoes in that field. No matter what side of a border you're on, the blight'll chance you.

There, see the ruined tower. That's one of our crowds – a Doherty fort, over four hundred years old. The past. And contiguous to it, in the future, a new house,  - no thatch there; all bright paint and glass. There's a whole city back there, walls and streets and a tumult of northerly people, criss-crossing political and religious pavements in their island city. Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile eh?

Turn back this way. Don't mind the past and the future. We're all living and dying in the present.

The earliest maps are only approximations as you know...... They never showed you the maps. Jaysus. (Passes out maps.) Here look at this – Brishmachree, marked tentatively. And a little more assuredly here.

I need them back. They don't like leaving them maps out of the vaults at Dublin Castle.

'There's always a division of the spoils after a war, Colm', says Mr Feetham. Easy enough for him to say.

Oh I know we've had our own surfeit of carnage, what with the bother in Dublin, the madness in the trenches, the drunken Tans, the heart-scorched Irregulars and the self-righteous Free Staters.

But division?

It's a matter of anglicisation.  Brishmachree.
My heart broke. Heartbreak. It's Irish too, you see. Do bhris mo chroí.

Ach, observe away.

(Sits. Works. Sings.)
Céad slán ag sléibhte maorga / chondae Dhún na nGall
Agus dhá chéad slán ag an Earagal árd, / ina stua(í) os cionn caor 's call
Nuair a ghluais mise thart / le loch Dhún Lúich, / go ciún sa ghleann ina luí
I mo dhiaidh bhí Gleanntáin Ghlas' Ghaoth Dobhair,
is beag nár / bhris mo chroí.

'Situate Brishmachree, my good man', says Feetham. 'Recommend which side of the border to put it on. And visit the ancestors while you're at it.'

A darling man. A darling man.

Here's Feetham's current draft then. (Passes out another map.) Highly confidential, I don't need to tell you. See An Grianán over there. Move west and south of that hill and there's the draft boundary line. That's it. The hill fort is on the side of the new country. The Free State. We're on the side of the old country. Ireland. Northern Ireland.
Now, this current draft puts the aunt in Inch Island in the new country. Another aunt, another Doherty, is below us there, beside the Skeoge River. Her man, Alfie Buchanan – left a leg at the Somme, the errant boy – and limps about the Londonderry and Lough Swilly halt on the railway line below there.  The badge on his cap delineates him a vassal.

If Feetham confirms this draft, the two sisters'll be separated by an international border. Whole countries apart, they'll be. Foreigners and sisters, not three miles between them. Brishmachree, eh?

First time it's ever been done in Ireland. 

Well, yeez have observed this much. 

Ye can report back that all is in order. At the border.

'He's wrestling with it Mr. Feetham,' ye can tell him. 'He's measuring twice so you can cut once. And the blood can flow on all sides.' 

I'll have me recommendations in time for the final report in October. There might be scope for a bit of leeway here yet. For the aunts. Blood, you see.

Give me back them labels there now. Thank you.

Did ye give me back the maps? Can't have them falling into the wrong hands now? Loose talk, eh? 

Right then. Observe yourselves back the way ye came.

There's no crossing here.

We walk away from the gate, back down the lane we came.    

(Calls.) And tell Mr. Feetham I was asking for him. Tell him I'm sorting it out.
©Dave Duggan June 2012

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